Oklahoma Sooners need to have more fun on the court to rebound

A lost joy has been at the root of the Sooners' spiral from the top spot of the Big 12 Conference.

Watching film of the last two games hasn’t been enjoyable for All-American guard Buddy Hield. He has watched Oklahoma falter late against Kansas and Texas Tech, saying that it felt like Oklahoma had just given up.

Like they’d given up on themselves.

Hield thinks the Sooners are being outfought, not competing hard enough and giving away key plays late in games.

As Oklahoma prepares for a key road game Saturday afternoon against West Virginia, turning around a four-game slump won’t depend on preparing a better game face or finding another level of intensity. When the Sooners were climbing the charts during an unbeaten non-conference run, they were one of the most fun college basketball teams to watch – capable of stringing together 3-pointers, always making the extra pass and playing at a hyper-fast pace.

Most importantly, they were having fun, and Hield’s big Bahamian smile was constant. Hield isn’t smiling as much any more.

“We just have to compete harder and just grind and have fun doing it,” Hield said. “Back in the first two months, we had fun playing with each other. It seems like we’re not having fun any more. We’re missing shots and not creating for teammates.

“We’re not getting our swagger. We’re not having the fun that we were having the first two months of the season. We have to find it. We have to get it back quick.”

When Oklahoma (20-5, 8-5 Big 12) was at its best, a few made jumpers to start games turned into quick double-digit leads. A Hield 3-pointer in transition turned into five straight, usually with Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler chipping in a make or two.

That rhythm is gone from Oklahoma’s offense, bogged down by a slump-caused lack of spacing and an emphasis from Big 12 opponents to keep the Sooners from running.

“It feels like we were just out of our rhythm,” forward Khadeem Lattin said. “We weren't comfortable. That's something we're working on, and we're putting a real focus and emphasis on that and just kind of get into the flow of it. We'll be back soon. We've just got to work on that.”

Coach Lon Kruger hasn’t disliked Oklahoma’s competition level despite three losses in the last four games by the third-ranked Sooners. Instead, it’s about finding the right way to compete and the right times to give immense effort – like fighting for loose balls or eliminating second shots in the final minute.

Oklahoma has to find a way to do more.

“Everyone’s got to take that attitude,” Kruger said. “We all have to do more. That’s not just scoring. It’s rebounding, defense, talking more, whatever the case might be. Everybody has a different role.”

It’s not about being tired for Oklahoma, despite four of the five starters averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Hield laughed that of Thursday afternoon. Oklahoma doesn’t need a rest.

It needs more of Hield’s laugher. It needs to have more fun.

“We’re out there having fun,” Hield said. “You want to be on the court no matter what. Teams are going to give us their best shot. We’re a good team.

“. . . We’re grown men. We just have to fight through it if we’re tired. I don’t think we’re tired, we just have to compete harder.”

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories